If Saudi women defy a ban to get behind the wheel on Saturday, they will be punished, the government has warned.
Though laws do not explicitly forbid women from driving, they are not issued licenses. The Kingdom is the only country in the world not to allow women behind the wheel.
The campaign known as October 26 ‘Women2Drive’ (october26driving.com) told women with international driving licences to continue with their intention to drive, but not to make October 26 a symbolic date, stating that some women had already begun to drive before Saturday. The change of tack came after several activists received calls from the Interior Ministry reminding them that women in Saudia Arabia were forbidden from driving.
It would mark the third such protest since 1990. Previous actions led to arrests for public order offences and demoralisation, imprisonment and some women lost their jobs.
This time women have taken their campaign online to garner media support, posting videos on social networks and YouTube. An online petition collected at least 16,000 signatures before the site was blocked two weeks ago.
The campaign has reignited public debate on the ban. The head of the religious police said there was no law forbidding women from driving. However, just one month ago cleric Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan said that driving damaged womens’ ovaries.
On October 23, 150 conservative clerics protested outside the king’s palace in Jeddah against what they saw as ‘Westernisation’ and the ‘conspiracy of women driving’, claiming the US was behind the campaign.
Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch notes, treats women as legal minors, “who cannot conduct official government business, travel abroad, marry, pursue higher education, or undergo certain medical procedures without permission from men.”
Though activists say the public mood is shifting towards allowing women to drive, the government claims society is not ready for change.